In new exhibit, artists answer the question ‘what does it mean to be syilx?’

Sncəwips Heritage Museum showcases local syilx artwork and pride with display art and messages from range of community members
An Indigenous woman wearing an orange "Every Child Matters" t-shirt, stands with arms at hips inside museum.
Coralee Miller of Westbank First Nation, the docent at the Sncəwips Heritage Museum, stands inside the museum during the launch of its “What does it mean to be syilx?” exhibit on Sept. 30. Photo by Aaron Hemens

A new exhibit which looks at syilx identity through the artwork and writings of community members is on display indefinitely at the Sncəwips Heritage Museum in Westbank.

Over the span of four months, syilx community members were invited to create artwork and responses to the prompt — and respective name of the exhibit — “What does it mean to be syilx?” 

Around 20 pieces of art, and responses to the prompt, cover a large wall at the museum. It features the work and voices of everyday syilx community members, from Youth to Elders and everyone in between.

“We have a lot of talented people in our community. A lot of artists. But they’re shy,” said Coralee Miller of Westbank First Nation, who works at the museum as a docent — a position akin to a guide.

Miller said that she’s proud of the community for having the courage to come out and publicly express what their syilx heritage means to them. 

The exhibit, she said, was about bringing people together as a collective to observe how syilx artists view culture and identity.

“We are a beautiful people with a language, with culture, with heritage, with practices,” she said. 

“You can see it in our artwork and our understanding of who we are, and our connection to our environment and to our community.”

The “What does it mean to be syilx?” exhibit at the Sncəwips Heritage Museum features around 20 pieces of artwork and accompanying messages from the community on what their syilx heritage means to them. Photo by Aaron Hemens

“Being syilx means my ancestors were the first ones on this land,” wrote Jacob Seddon, a syilx Youth who accompanied their response with a painting that represents the exploration of the spirit world.

“I enjoy being syilx and I am very proud of it.”

Macey Derickson wrote that being syilx means to be connected to the land. They painted an image of a frog overlooking the land during a storm, adding that the frog represents them and their fascination with stormy weather.

“(The land) is something I have always been fascinated with, how our environments that surround us work together to create beautiful imagery,” they wrote.

For Taylor Fulton, being syilx means “being a part of a community and having family all around me. Having culture that I can look back on and carry that down to future generations.”

Also featured in the exhibit was community members’ responses to the question: “What does it mean to be Canadian?”

“This is a colonizer’s identity,” reads Ernest Jack’s response to the question. 

Joe Kruger wrote that: “it means navigating the world stage by having a shared sense of culture and history (whether positive or not) with others who identify as Canadian in a unique way that sets us apart from occupants of other countries.”

A message board is on display at the exhibit, where museum visitors can also leave their own response to both questions.

The exhibit had its launch on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, which Miller said made the exhibit even more special.

“We had the paintings, and we realized that this would be perfect for Truth and Reconciliation day,” she said. “A day to shout loud and proud we are syilx — here’s what it means.”

She added that she hopes visitors walk away with a better understanding of the syilx community and its history.

“In the museum here, the key part to reconciliation is truth — come in, learn about who we are,” she said.

“Focus on what makes us amazing people.”

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